The Year of the Griffin ~ Diana Wynne Jones

  • Title: The Year of the Griffin
  • Author: Diana Wynne Jones
  • Series: Derkholm #2
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  It is eight years after the tours from offworld have stopped. High Chancellor Querida has retired, leaving Wizard Corkoran in charge of the Wizards’ University. Although Wizard Corkoran’s obsession is to be the first man on the moon, and most of his time is devoted to this project, he decides he will teach the new first years himself in hopes of currying the favor of the new students’ families—for surely they must all come from wealth, important families—and obtaining money for the University (which it so desperately needs). But Wizard Corkoran is dismayed to discover that one of those students—indeed, one he had such high hopes for, Wizard Derk’s own daughter Elda—is a hugh golden griffin, and that none of the others has any money at all.

Wizard Corkoran’s money-making scheme backfires, and when Elda and her new friends start working magic on their own, the schemes go wronger still. And when, at length, Elda ropes in her brothers Kit and Blade to send Corkoran to the moon . . . well . . . life at the Wizards’ University spins magically and magnificently out of control.

This spoof of fantasy tropes defies every genre convention and turns the familiar story of a magic school (Harry Potter, anyone?) upside down. Laughter is a gift of this tale, where every dangerous situation has its farcical silver lining.

The action takes place in a magic university, where six first year students study magic and have adventures and help each other deal with their deadly families. Most of them are deadly anyhow.
There are assassins shrunk to the size of rats, pirates turned into mice, a walking cloakrack and a trip to Mars – by accident. There are incompetent teachers and inedible food in the cafeteria. There are spells for every occasion, and of course, there are griffins: a magical mix between a lion, an eagle, a human and a cat. Charming!

I won’t talk about the plot of this novel, except that it’s so full of buffoonery you have to read it for yourself. Humor sparkles now and again, as the author follows her chosen group of students through their college escapades, all of them ridiculous but exciting.

The protagonists are a diverse bunch: one dwarf, one griffin, one green girl from the marches, and three humans. Their friendship blooms despite their diversity, as all of them are united in one fact: they are all at the university in secret, studying magic against the express wishes of their families or their masters. Except the griffin Elda, of course. Her family is the best, with lots of love for all its human and griffin members. Whenever the others’ families manifest as an invasion of senators or an influx of assassins or a pirate raid, Elda’s numerous relatives are there to assist.

The characters are all cartoonish, more suitable to an anime caper or a comic video game than a dramatic feature. They are sympathetic but not alive, more avatars than living souls. The fact doesn’t diminish their attraction to the reader, which was a surprise for me. Unlike a serious fantasy story, where my emotional core is usually involved, this book captivated my brain with its wit and engaged my laughing buds with its absurdities.

The only irritating detail was the author’s head-hopping. There are too many points of view in this novel, but I enjoyed reading it all the same.

Recommended to anyone who loves fantasy.

Footnote: Some time ago, I tried to read the first book of this series – The Dark Lord of Derkholm – but I couldn’t finish it. This one I loved. Perhaps I should try to read the first one again, to get the background for this one.

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